The Dumb and the Daring: Conference Champions Finale

In case you missed the first two servings of this delicious prediction meal, check out the regular season conference predictions for the A10 through the Big South (alphabetically speaking) and the Big 10 to the Mountain West. You may be sad for your squad but not disappointed with the delivery.

It’s time to stop banging our heads against the gridiron and stop and smell the hardwood! Here is the final round of the Dumb and Daring predictions for all DI conference regular season champions. While some of these conference champs will go on to win their respective conference tournaments and earn the coveted automatic bid, many of these teams will have to rest their hopes and dreams on a mysterious group of individuals known only as “The Committee” to decide their fates as potential at-larges. The Committee controls the bracket and can set the course for all hopefuls both in the category of upset and those in championship mode. The Committee may also control the world’s wealth and plot the strategic movement for the entire globe, and if that’s the case, it makes sense as to why the bracket is always a mess. Nevertheless, it’s time for some predictions! Let the games begin!

NEC: Merrimack Warriors

The Bryant Bulldogs were top of the Northeastern Conference from the get-go in 2021 going 16-2 in conference play and demolishing Wagner in the conference title game. They bowed out to Wright State in the First Four by 11 to finish up the NEC’s post-season dreams. While it seems as though the top (Bull)dogs were unmatched in conference play it was a far tighter race than what the records show. 10 of their conference and conference tournament games were decided by single digits including 4 that came down to a single possession. In one sense this shows the mental fortitude of Bryant who was able to close the deal consistently, in another sense, it’s anyone’s 2022. Here comes the daring: Jordan Minor will be NEC Player of the Year as he averages a double-double and leads the Merrimack Warriors to the regular season crown. Minor is one of the few returning stars from any of the top contenders from the NEC and his senior partners Ziggy Reid and Mykel Derring return as well to aid in conference domination. While ESPN+ will carry their first true road game at Montana which will be a nice test, we’ll have to find some stream somewhere to see what will prove to be great games as they battle Providence and San Francisco both on the road prior to conference play.

OVC: Southeast Missouri State Redhawks

The Ohio Valley Conference had 12 basketball members for the 2020-2021 season. For 2021-2022 that number dipped to 10, and now the OVC seems to be falling apart as its down to 8 for 2022-2023–but for those 8 it’s open season. With Belmont and Murray State gone, that means the top two programs are also gone. Morehead State is the only remaining team to have picked up at least 20 regular season wins and more than 10 conference wins. Does this mean they’ll rise to the top this year? They certainly set themselves up with a healthy non-conference slate at Indiana, West Virginia, and Vandy, along with a home date against Bellarmine, but gone is double-double machine Johni Broome that could’ve carried them. So, who takes the crown? I see, you see, we all see SEMO! The Southeast Missouri State Redhawks are ready to rise up as the face of the OVC. With freshman sensation Phillip Russel and 7’0 Tulsa transfer, Josh Early joining him, the Redhawks will be hard to stop.

Pac-12: USC Trojans

The Pac-12 is in flux right now with the departures of UCLA and USC plus the rumor mill churning 24/7 on who’s coming and who’s going or if the Pac-12 will even exist in a few years. At least for this season, the basketball world will continue to hum along with the Pac-12 as we know and somewhat love. Tommy Lloyd seems to have erased all the Sean Miller corruption in the minds of fans as he guided the Cats to a #1-seed in last year’s tournament. The disappointment of not going beyond the Sweet 16 will sting for a while still, but the stage is set for Lloyd to repeat success. Nipping at his heels though are the soon-to-be departed California schools of UCLA and USC, along with the northern Ducks of Oregon who were preseason ranked at #21. The difference between these four potential powerhouses is going to be which freshman perform and which transfers mesh. USC may have only received votes in the preseason polls, but they’ll be laughing their way to a conference crown this year. 5-star Vince Iwuchukwu will be the next great big man to don a Trojan uniform and he’ll have a dangerous partner in Australian big Iaroslav Niagu. Coach Enfeild also snagged three other top prospects in his 2022 recruiting class, but they won’t be alone as seniors Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson will be able to cultivate a cohesive unit with the hungry pups coming in.

Patriot: Boston Terriers

Colgate had Wisconsin on the ropes in the first round of the tournament last year. Nelly Cummings and the Raiders were ready to roast some Badger and were tied at half only to fall by 7 down the stretch. Nelly is gone but Keegan Records and Tucker Richardson are back for more, but in their path will be the ferocious Boston Terriers. Although their name doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams, last year’s injury riddled roster forced bench development and now they have a healthy Nevin Zink to accompany Walter Whyte, and when it comes to Whyte, in case you didn’t know, he is the danger.

SEC: Kentucky Wildcats

4-Preseason top 25 teams sound like the makings of a dangerous conference, but if it’s anything like last year, the regular season didn’t translate to the tournament. Of the 6 teams from the SEC that made the dance, Arkansas was the lone representative to make any kind of competitive showing as everyone else got dumped by the second round. But we’re not here to discuss post-season potential (that’s for a different dumb daring prediction), this is all about the regular season. While it doesn’t sound daring on paper, Kentucky’s recent history paints the Wildcats as SEC champs more on the dumb side. Nevertheless, even with the early injury to Tshiebwe, the return of Sahvir Wheeler and Jacob Toppin along with Illinois State transfer Antonio Reeves will bring the much-needed senior leadership to a Kentucky program that hasn’t seen much of that. Wildcats roll the SEC.

SWAC: Texas Southern Tigers

You certainly have to be “Brave” when you’re in the SWAC and have to do battle with Rattlers, Jaguars, and three different kinds of Tigers. Alcorn State lost 11 of 12 to start last season, but then took the regular season title. The Tigers of Texas Southern lost their first 7 in a row only to be conference tournament champions, make the big dance, and even get out of the First Four. The SWAC teams have a standard routine of allowing themselves to be early season fodder for bigger conferences, walking away with some bruises, some stories, and a paycheck, only to slug it out come the regular season. They’ve had 5 different teams win at least a share of the regular season title in the past six seasons and yet only two different tourney champs. It seems to be a two-horse race again between Alcorn State and Texas Southern who were the clear favorites last season and are both bringing back a pair of leading scorers. The difference is going to come down to if Texas Southern’s massive incoming class is ready to go right away. For most small schools that’s not a great recipe for success. The SWAC gets their first regular season and tourney champion in the same year since Prairie A&M did it in 2018-2019, but this time it’ll be Texas Southern.

Southern: Furman Paladins

The Mocs won 27 games last year. They also lost the monster trio that pushed Illinois to a near epic upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. With no Malachi Smith, David Jean-Baptiste, or former KU forward Silvio De Sousa, Chatanooga enters rebuild mode. The Southern conference has put up many upset minded teams in recent history, none more infamous than the Mercer Bears who picked off Duke in the first round in 2014. It’s time for a new upset-minded team to take its place in Southern history–the Furman Paladins. In 2018, Furman looked like an NCAA tournament dark horse after an early OT win against Villanova, but Christmas was not kind to them as they fell apart in the conference and eventually lost in the first round of the NIT to Wichita State. Things are different now with two returning stars in seniors Mike Bothwell and Jalen Slawson. With an average regular season schedule there won’t be much testing prior to conference season, but there will be vengeance in mind after last year’s OT loss in the conference championship kept them out of the NCAA tournament. A little preview prediction too: don’t be surprised if they get a first-round win in the Dance after they get there.

Southland: SE Louisiana Lions

After going 7-7 in conference play, the Islanders of Texas A&M Corpus Christi made a run all the way to the Big Dance and even gave a valiant effort in the First Four game. The landscape of the Southland has changed since last season as they’ve made additions to the conference growing it from 8 to 10 teams by bringing in Texas A&M Commerce who is jumping up from DII as well as bringing back Lamar University. Despite the additions, the conference will be led by one of the staple institutions in SE Louisiana. Senior guard Boogie Anderson has a dynamic new partner with UTEP transfer Christian Agnew. After finding a role as energy man off the bench, Agnew is going to be allowed to cut loose and use his dynamic athleticism to take over the Southland and lead the Lions to a regular season title.

Summit: Oral Roberts Golden Eagles

Oral Roberts was a wrecking ball in the 2021 NCAA Tournament knocking off Ohio State and Florida before falling to Arkansas by a pair in the Sweet Sixteen. Last year South Dakota State won 30 games but was unable to push into the second round of the dance. The Summit is tough pick. It wasn’t just SDSU that grabbed a bucket full of wins last year as North Dakota State won 23 and Oral Roberts, North Dakota, and Kansas City all picked up 19. Some might see Oral Roberts’ run from two years ago as a forgettable miracle, but the Golden Eagles will fly again. With a slew of upperclassmen including leading scorers Max Abmas and Issac McBride, head man Paul Mills has his group primed for another deep run. #3 Houston better not sleep on them or there will be an early season upset.

Sun Belt: Troy Trojans

The Sun Belt is another conference where nothing matters except the conference tournament. With a highly unlikely at-large option, teams have to put themselves in a position to be prepared for conference play as they jockey for seeding into their winner-take-all conference tournament. There isn’t as much high stakes scheduling as Sun Belt teams often balance their non-conference slate with gimme games and winnable games as opposed to trying to become hard battle tested against a ranked opponent or two. Last season only 4 of the 12 teams in the conference finished under .500 and only one squad failed to reach double-digit wins. All that to understand the schedule that Scott Cross put together for his Troy Trojans is unique. After an exhibition with DIII Mississippi University for Women they’ll travel to Florida State for an ACC showdown before hitting the road to #9 Arkansas and #17 San Diego State. Cross has faith in his upperclassmen to get back to the dance for the first time since getting drubbed by Duke in 2017. Will they be able to make any noise against those ranked teams? Time will tell, but they’re going to be battle tested and ready for conference play where no Greeks will be able to surprise them.

WAC: New Mexico State Aggies

New Mexico State, Seattle, and Stephen F. Austin all finished 14-4 in conference play with Grand Canyon and Sam Houston nipping at their heels 1 game back. The Aggies took home the conference prize after winning one of the most entertaining conference tournaments of 2022. While 6-seed Abaline Christian did their best to upset the whole show, New Mexico State came out of it all and proved the WAC to be a quality foe in their first round NCAA Tournament win against UCONN before a 5-point loss to Arkansas. Even though Teddy Allen is gone, the addition of Deshawndre Washington is going to keep the Aggies firing all year. In 2021, Washington was named NJCAA Division II Player of the Year, the NJCAA Region IV Player of the Year, NJCAA Division II First Team All-American before heading to NJCAA DI Northwest Florida and becoming Panhandle Conference Player of the Year, FCSAA All-State/NJCAA All-Region 8 team, NJCAA Division I First Team All-American and NJCAA Division I National Championship Tournament Most Valuable Player as he led the Raiders to an NJCAA National Championship. There’s going to be some growing pains but come December 14th when they head to a then ranked Saint Mary’s squad, be ready to watch two future NCAA tournament teams go head-to-head.

WCC: Saint Mary’s Gaels

Daring. Yes. Dumb. Maybe. Saint Mary’s may be feeling a sense of relief that Gonzaga is in talks to bolt the WCC and make the Big 12 the greatest basketball conference on the planet. At the same token, every time they step on the court with the Zags, it’s an opportunity to add to an at-large resume. While they are the also-rans of the conference, that’s not to say they are a slouch program. They won the conference tournament in 2010, 2012, and 2019, and have been competitive in their tournament appearances including tournament wins in 2017 and 2022. Why will this year be different for the Gaels to where they will be able to find themselves regular season champs for the first time in over a decade? Some of it has to do completely with Gonzaga. Unless let Timme be who he wants to be and keep everyone else out of his way, their offense will be congested and sluggish again which was their downfall in the tournament last year. Chet and Timme couldn’t find a rhythm together and the frustration was obvious. The best thing for the Zags might be that Holmgren was a one-and-done, but we’ll see if Mark Few opens things up. If he doesn’t, Saint Mary’s will win the conference by 2+ games. But it’s more about what Saint Mary’s has. Mitchell Saxen is a bear-man. He is a double-double machine waiting to happen and at 6’10 and 240lbs there’s not going to be much moving him. The secret sauce for the Gaels though will be Aiden Mahaney. The 4-star freshman from Moraga, CA is going to inject a dynamic into the WCC that no one outside of Gonzaga has had. He’s a tough matchup that can shoot it from anywhere and will.

Now that your belly is full of predictions, let’s feast together on the greatest sport and the greatest season! If you disagree, (Mom!) that’s ok. Just remember to keep it friendly on the blacktop!


  • Kyle Spencer

    Not a jack-of-all trades just a master of none. Former Assistant Coach for 2x Middle School Soccer Championship team. Coached a few other things along the journey, but focusing on leading my family well and mentoring students.

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